When initially asked if I was excited about the new practicum I finally scored, I was only able to offer a sheep shrug and an inauthentic smile. My hesitancy was not at all due to the content of my practicum which I was, and still am excited by. I’m working as an intern with Kybele, Inc., partnered with UNC, on the Making Every Baby Count Initiative (MEBCI 2.0), along with my colleague, Sydney, who posted a few weeks back. This initiative is focused on reducing maternal and newborn deaths in four tertiary hospitals in Ghana through means of systems strengthening: emphasizing quality improvement, implementation science, and leadership. My personal role is to design a training manual and PowerPoint presentation targeting implementation and leadership efforts.
This practicum has turned out to be great for me for a number of reasons, a couple of which I wasn’t expecting. Looking back, I minored in Organizational Leadership Practice in undergrad and never knew if or how I would use the leadership tools I learned in my future, but with MEBCI 2.0, I get to implement what I already know in this realm and expand on it even further with hopes of providing training to build up strong implementation leaders. It’s rewarding to see my years of undergrad study being put to use in this capacity! Looking ahead, just before I accepted this practicum, I made the personal decision to apply to an accelerated nursing program (admittance pending) after I earn my MPH, so that I can become an RN. I have the goal of combining my MPH skills and nursing practice to enhance primary care for women and girls surrounding sexual, reproductive, and mental health, both in practice and systemically. What I did not know before joining MEBCI 2.0 is that much of our initiative is targeted towards the nurses who work in the maternal and newborn units; they are our “clinical champions” who are the feet on the ground of our initiative. This allows me to gain a small glimpse into working as a nurse in a low resource setting before I even begin to pursue doing something similar myself, and I’m finding this perspective to be invaluable.
I found the perfect practicum to help me use what I already know while learning new skills while developing my career goals… so why did I only have a sheep shrug to offer at first? Two words: Remote. Format.
Students have had a wide array of mixed feelings with remote learning ranging from absolutely loving it to absolutely hating it, and truthfully, I have deeply resonated with the latter. As a person with ADHD and OCD, structure, routine, and a fair amount of meaningful human interaction are highly beneficial to my mental wellbeing, as well as my academic motivation and productivity. When I moved from Michigan to Chapel Hill to start an entirely remote semester, which turned into two, I was lost when it came to finding and creating this structure for myself. Most of the time, I felt like I was fighting a losing battle when it came to keeping up with my academics, and by the end of the year, all I felt that I had to be proud of was that I simply passed. This took a huge toll on my self-confidence, as well as my confidence in my academic ability and capacity. I did not want my remote practicum to be an experience that ended with that same sentiment, just because of the challenges I face with remote learning.
Since I knew I’d generally be at home the whole summer, I decided to add a little joy and some healthy responsibility to my day-to-day and became a foster mom to a Mama cat and her five kittens! My babies moved in and started keeping me busy, and I thought well, at least I have them to get me through this summer of still being remote and at home.
Then, a series of events occurred that quickly changed my views towards my remote practicum. A week before my practicum began, I fell on a set of stairs and severely sprained my ankle and ended up in a cast and on crutches. I couldn’t walk at all for over a week, and even when I could start to hobble around, I didn’t have enough stability to go out in public on my own. I attended my practicum’s weekly team zoom meetings from my bed with my foot propped up on a pile of pillows- a luxury and necessity I likely would not have been afforded had the practicum been in-person.
Just as my ankle was healing and I becoming more mobile, my energy began decreasing drastically and I found myself sleeping truly excessive amounts. Within a couple weeks I was diagnosed with mono. At the beginning stages, there were times I would be sitting and talking with someone and then my body would reach its energy limit and I’d need to put my head down on the table and nearly fall asleep- this happened in public once, and I was horrified by the thought of something like this happening during an in-person practicum meeting or presentation… and horrified by the thought of my practicum depending on me having to get out of my bed every day, which in the early stages of mono, was a no-go.
I’m so grateful that outside of two scheduled weekly zoom meetings, I am able to complete all my work on my own time from my bed when I have the energy to, or maybe even with my rambunctious kittens by my side if I’m feeling really energetic that day ;). If you’ve never had mono before… my biggest piece of advice is to simply never kiss or share a drink with anyone ever again… you don’t want it.
In just a couple shorts months, I’ve learned to never let assumptions, preconceived ideas, or even past experiences determine what you think an experience might be- there are so many aspects of life that can change without our control or notice, and sometimes, these unexpected changes might just change our experiences for the better. Of course I did not want to sprain my ankle or get mono, but these experiences have allowed me to find immense gratitude for my remote practicum as working remote suddenly became a need rather than an option for me. It has also opened my eyes to the fact that for others who deal with chronic conditions, remote work is not just a desire but a necessity, and I feel encouraged to advocate more avidly for this. It has allowed me the flexibility to rest and recover, and has provided me with a strong virtual team of individuals who provide a balance of helping keep me on track and motivated while also showing understanding and compassion for my current decreased energy levels. I already know that at the end of my practicum, I will not feel the same sense of defeat I felt at the end my first year, even with the challenges I’ve been facing. Instead, I’ve found gratitude for the unexpected trials that changed my perspective, and am proud of myself for not just “surviving,” but for making the most of the circumstances I’ve been given to still find ways to learn from and give my best to MEBCI 2.0.